Apart from our palms and the soles of our feet, all human skin is covered with hair.

What is the word for the fine hair on a human being’s skin?

Photo of fine hair on a shoulder

I would be especially interested in what you would call it on the shoulder of an adolescent girl — that is, skin that we normally perceive as “hairless” —, in non-medical terms.

“Vellus hair” is of course the correct answer, but it seems to me that the average person would not know what that term means. “Peach fuzz”, on the other hand, seems to apply mostly to the face; that is, it denotes longer vellus hair in a place that has terminal hair in most men and many women. “Down” also seems to denote longer hair, both vellus and very soft and light terminal.

At this point it seems to me that there is no word for this kind of hair, probably because mostly we are unaware of it, and that you would have to describe it, possibly as “(very) fine hair”.

Sorry for the low image quality. Googling for an image of this is surprisingly hard. (But please don’t replace this image with one showing a different body part.)

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    Peach fuzz (not fluff) is the more common term. – Mari-Lou A Dec 10 '14 at 8:56
  • @Mari-LouA Thank you. I edited my question. – user32638 Dec 10 '14 at 9:00

If you really want to convey the idea of this specific type of hair without using technical terms or slang, I think fine body hair is as good as you're going to get. It's not evocative, but searching for it will show it's widely used by people who are trying to describe exactly what you're talking about.

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The picture looks like vellus hair, which is the very light hair seen on children and sometimes adult women. That's what the picture looks like. You can read more information about vellus hair at Wikipedia.

The word for the hair that covers adult bodies (not including the hair on our heads) is androgenic hair. For more info, you may again refer to Wikipedia.

These are the correct terms; however, in English, we commonly use hair to refer to any hair on our body, though we sometimes distinguish that below the neck by calling it body hair. The type of hair in your picture, appearing on the face of a prepubescent boy, is also known as peach fuzz.

Interesting to note that in some languages there are two everyday words for "hair," one for that on our heads and one for that on our bodies.

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    "Body hair" is very common in North America. Not sure about GB and elsewhere. A google search returns a ton (and not just obscure fetishists). – Rusty Tuba Dec 9 '14 at 17:27
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    Agree with Rusty Tuba. The term "body hair" is used in American English to differentiate between hair on the head and the rest of the body. As far as the queston, I almost always hear this kind of hair be called "peach fuzz", although I've also heard some people call it a "milk mustache" when the hair is on the upper lip. – UnhandledExcepSean Dec 9 '14 at 19:17
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    Body hair is perfectly common and unremarkable in BrE as well. I can't speak for Antipodean, SA, or Indian English, but I can think of no reason it shouldn't be perfectly normal there as well. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 9 '14 at 19:17
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    If you aren't writing a scientific paper for biologists, I wouldn't expect your target audience to know what "vellus hair" is without defining it. Not common in spoken or written English in America anyway. – UnhandledExcepSean Dec 9 '14 at 19:21
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    The poster didn't indicate that he wanted a word that was "common in spoken or written English." I decided to give several scientific and non- options in any case. – Rusty Tuba Dec 9 '14 at 19:22

The word down can be used to mean fine hair. From Dictionary.com: "a growth of soft, fine hair or the like".

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    Not normally used for human hair in BrEng. – A E Dec 9 '14 at 14:58
  • @AE Is there another non-technical, everyday word used in BE? – user32638 Dec 9 '14 at 16:37
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Scroll down to definition 2, usage 1.2, and it's under "more example sentences". – Gob Ties Dec 9 '14 at 17:36
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    I have never heard 'down' used of human head hair (as the Oxford link suggests it can be) though I've often heard it used to describe very light body hair, on the arm, say, or the cheek. – TRomano Dec 9 '14 at 21:37
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    Just because you've never heard a word used doesn't mean it isn't used. "Down" means fine hair. I use it... in BrEng. – aychedee Dec 9 '14 at 22:01

I believe it is called vellus hair.

Vellus hair is short, fine, light-colored, and barely noticeable hair that develops on most of a person's body during childhood. Exceptions include the lips, the back of the ear, the palm of the hand, the sole of the foot, some external genital areas, the navel and scar tissue. The density of hair – the number of hair follicles per area of skin – varies from person to person. Each strand of vellus hair is usually less than 2 mm (1/13 inch) long and the follicle is not connected to a sebaceous gland.

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In the womb, fetuses are covered in tiny hair called lanugo. Shortly after birth, babies grow vellus, or fine, unpigmented hair, across the body.

When puberty hits, vellus hair give way to coarser terminal hair in places such as the underarms and genitals. The longer, thicker hair on scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes are also terminal.

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At the risk of lowering the tone, I have heard bum fluff and pant beard used, depending on the precise location on the owner.

But I am given to understand that these terms are rarely used in formal medical contexts.

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For a non-medical term as requested by the OP I'd call the hair on that girl's shoulder as being almost invisible hairs. You're only able to detect them in strong backlight, such as sunlight.

“Human Hair,” Vlado Valcović informs us that two basic types of hair occur in man: vellus hairs: the very tiny (almost invisible) hairs that help make skin feel silky

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